Rocky IV (1985)
“He’s cut! The Russian is cut!”
In Rocky IV (1985), a Soviet boxer called Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) comes to America, and he’s out for blood. The Italian Stallion’s BFF, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), arranges an exhibition fight. Drago literally beats him to death in the early moments of the second round. While holding the head of his dead friend in the ring (and wearing the greatest Hugo Boss pullover ever), Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) decides to fight the The Siberian Express. Fearing for Drago’s safety, the fight is scheduled to be held in the USSR, where Rocky goes to train. Several montages later, Rocky fights The Russian. After one of the most badass boxing scenes ever, and 15 grueling rounds, Rocky beats Drago with a KO. He then drapes himself in the American flag and gives a speech – the speech that ended the Cold War.
Why We Love It
First, let me address your concern. Yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I’m writing about a sports movie. Attention naysayers and Robert Fure: before you start boiling and making those admittedly funny Vagisil jokes, take heed. When I’m not writing for FSR, I’ve got a seriously kick ass job in foreign policy. My career choice? Largely a direct result of my love for Rocky IV. There’s nothing, I say nothing, not to love about this movie. If you disagree, please proceed to the front of the line to have your World’s Biggest Pussy license issued, and your American Citizenship license permanently revoked. (You know, it’s that thing that grants you the right to be a complete douchebag at frat parties/the United Nations/all-you-can-eat-buffets/when traveling abroad.)
That’s right, boys: you’re either with us, or you’re against us. Rocky IV is the greatest boxing movie of all time, one of the greatest sports movies of all time, and the highest grossing film in the Rocky franchise. Also, Rocky IV singlehandedly ended the Cold War. Other things I love? Behold, comrades:
Paully’s Robot. Rocky buys Paully a person-sized robot for his birthday. It’s a funny little scene, and an 80s-style nod to The Impending Future, which 24 years later we can now dub The Sorely Disappointing Present. To quote B.I.L. (recurring voice in my columns, friend and fellow Rocky IV enthusiast), “I honestly thought by the time I graduated from high school, I would have A) a robot like the one in Rocky IV, and B) a hoverboard like in Back to the Future II.” Well, them’s the breaks.
Apollo’s Dramatic Death. After seeing a press conference of Drago’s, Apollo (played here by Weathers, in rare form) comes out of retirement, because he just hates Communism so damn much. Naturally, you gotta love the spectacle of dickish patriotism that Creed stages for the exhibition. James Brown gives a live performance of “Living In America,” which has certainly stood the test of time. There are Vegas dancers, fireworks, American flag shorts, and more – all serving as a general reminder of how badass that ostentatiousness can truly be — that is, when you’re hardcore committed to ideals like Liberty, Freedom, and The Almighty Dollar.
Apollo has us instantly rooting for him, and we’re still warm in the glow of this introductory spectacle. It is exceedingly clear that he truly embodies the American spirit…uh, until The Russian kills him…in Round 2. Drago is played so curtly by Lundgren (a pleasant surprise. Besides for Masters of the Universe, Dolph’s not a giant of an actor by any stretch of the imagination) that we’re cursing the Reds with those five damning words: “If he dies, he dies.”
Totally Accurate Portrayal of the Former Soviet Union. No propaganda here, nerds. I’m pretty convinced that before Stallion got to ‘em, the USSR really was fully comprised of snow-capped Siberian mountains and nihilism-inducing tundra, high-tech training facilities where ultimate fighting weapons were crafted, a corrupt politburo keen to take any pinko edge that it could – including state sanctioned steroid use, a reliance on mechanized physical analysis (a bit reminiscent of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out), Brigitte Nielsen (the former future ex-Mrs. Stallone), and smoky arenas full of grey-suited apparatchiks. Think about it.
· And, on a related note, 23 minutes of Badass Montages in a 91 minute movie. There are training montages, and then there are training montages. Rocky IV contains several, all of which rule. Here we really get to the heart of the competing economic ideologies from the Cold War Era, with 23 minutes of perfectly illustrated differences, and a guide to how those disparities play out on both a micro and macro stage.
Rocky is the quintessential American, brilliantly personifying the “rugged individual” archetype that earned USA the Baller Status that we so deserve. He struggles up mountains, works out in a barn, opting for peasant yokes and wheelbarrows instead of machines and the ‘roids, grows a great beard, and relys solely on his brute strength to get him through. And, in a particularly hilarious instance of political import, we root for the Stallion when he solidly outpaces his KGB tail.
On the flip side, we have The Russian and his corrupt ways – wearing metallic unitards, functioning as an automaton, using tons of high-tech workout machinery, and juicin’. The worlds these two men stand for couldn’t be more opposite. We learn all of this to Vincent DiCola’s score (that’s Vincent DiCola of the old Transformers movie fame), John Cafferty’s “Hearts on Fire,” and the especially-poignant-given-the-circumstances “(There’s) No Easy Way Out” by Robert Tepper. (By the way, the Rocky IV soundtrack went platinum. And thanks to a present from an ex-boyfriend, I own it on vinyl.)
The Many Nicknames of Ivan Drago. The Russian, The Siberian Express, DEATH FROM ABOVE (the exact opposite of a catchy nickname), etc. Drink every time you hear one. Bonus if it’s vodka.
The Fight. First of all, it’s fifteen rounds. Fifteen rounds! Apparently the USSR doesn’t do TKOs, or Rocky wouldn’t have lasted past Round Three. And yes, there’s another montage, replete with both Soviet and American blood and sweat flying thither and nigh. The scene is long, the tension high, a man’s life (no, seriously. It’s more like a duel than it is a boxing match.) and our Liberty hangs in the balance. For several rounds, you just know Rocky’s gonna go down (“I see three of him out there.” “Hit the one in the middle!”)
You’ll sit on the edge of your seat, poised for Perestroika. Tense. Sweaty. Worried about the future of your stock options, wishing you would have paid more attention during Red Dawn. Finally a roaring, “He’s cut! The Russian is cut!” We hear Duke cry, “You see? You see? He’s not a machine, he’s a man!” and Drago all but admits his inevitable defeat: “He’s not human. He’s like a piece of iron.” And just like that, it’s Round 15. Rocky deals the final blow (only stunning the enemy, not killing him), and by now even the politburo is cheering for Stallion.
“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” After the fight, Rocky is mobbed by Soviets, some Americans, and his lovely Adrian. Draping himself in the American flag, he delivers this line in a moment of immediate reflection. Bloodied and victorious, and with that signature Rocky heart: “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” Honestly, this is the greatest line ever delivered in a movie. Ever. With it, he wins over the Russian crowd – one of the single most improbable things in all of the Rocky movies – and convinced the actual USSR to cool it with the nuclear arms race and dissolve their Communist empire.
Moment We Fell in Love
How about when, as a direct result of Rocky’s diplomatic musings, the Soviet Union collapsed into fifteen sovereign countries (Sure, it was 6 years after the film. Do you know how long it took this shit to get to Russia?)
Even in the throes of these tough times, Rocky IV reminds us that it’s great to be American. Did I mention that it ended the Cold War?